Sea Glass

Sea Glass

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Ken Kern is Dead!

But his ideas seem to be alive. Most people in the 70’s, who wanted to build a home more in tune with their particular climate or by themselves had a copy of Ken’s book “The Owner Built Home”. This book was much more than how to construct a foundation, build a wall, shingle a roof, etc. Although the book covered everything from selecting building sites to painting, Ken’s work was best known for introducing us to some “unconventional techniques” when designing and building our homes. What were these techniques? I’m glad you asked.

These were some of the “unconventional techniques”:
Placing a home on a site to take best advantage of compass orientation. For example, in northern climates concentrating glass in directions that would maximize solar gain and installing less glass on the “cold”side.
Again in northern climates, constructing an overhang that would shade glass in warm months and then allow sunlight in colder months.
Using “insulated” glass.
The use of innovative insulating techniques, i.e., incorporating dead air spaces in wall systems and the use of reflective products in wall and roof systems.
Orientating room layout to make best use of the path of the sun during the day.
The use of trees and vegetation to shade certain portions of the home.
Developing internal ways of circulating interior air flow in order to minimize the load on the heating and cooling systems.

These were generally radical ideas at the time, especially in the early 70’s, when energy was cheap and the country was still debating the issue “is smog really bad for you?”

Ken also wrote a book in 1978 called “The Healthy House”, addressing the idea of indoor air pollution and the use of contaminants inside of our homes. Whoever thought that our houses could make us sick? Ken Kern’s ideas were marginalized and considered to be “wacko” tree hugger concepts. Now we get LEED points for addressing many of these same concerns. Today’s architecture and especially the “green” movement are founded in many of Ken’s ideas. While Ken Kern did not develop these concepts, he certainly put them in a simple form that many of us could understand.

Ken, an architect by education, traveled the world studying the home building techniques of indigenous peoples. He presented us with ways to get efficiency and sustainability out of low-tech materials and systems. Good lessons for all of us now concerned with these issues.

Ken actually died in a home he designed. A concrete slip form home he built collapsed during a freak windstorm. If you’re going to go, it might as well be with something you love. If you find a now out of print copy of “The Owner Built Home”, keep it. It’s a collector’s item.

Jeff Good
Benchmark General Contractors, Inc.

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